Mathilda Mallinson: Have you ever seen Who Wants to Be A Millionaire?

Helena Wadia: Multiple times

Mathilda Mallinson: You know to get into the chair, contestants have to race to put items of a certain category into order?

Helena Wadia: Fastest Finger first.

Mathilda Mallinson: Is that what it’s called?

Helena Wadia: Why am I coming off like a huge Who Wants to Be A Millionaire geek?

Mathilda Mallinson: You really are. Ooh, can I have the music? Do you know how the music goes? Obviously you know how the music goes…

Helena Wadia: Obviously, it’s my favourite show!

[They sing the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire theme tune]

Helena Wadia: Why are we singing it? Oh we’d have to pay for it.

Mathilda Mallinson: Today we are talking about immigration, people entering countries without papers in order to claim asylum. So asylum seekers. I’m going to give you five European countries and I want you to put them in the order of who annually is getting the most asylum seekers – and I’m basing this off the most recent annual figures. In no particular order, your countries are the UK, France, Germany, Spain, and Greece.

Helena Wadia: Okay, Greece gets the most, then the UK, then Germany, then Spain, then France. Am I close in any way?

Mathilda Mallinson: Almost the exact opposite. Okay, Germany gets the most, followed by Spain, then France, Greece, the UK.

Helena Wadia: Wow.

Mathilda Mallinson: The UK is actually getting significantly fewer than half of what France is, which is quite surprising, right?

Helena Wadia: Very surprising. If you were to believe everything you read or see or hear in the media, you would get the impression that the UK is completely overwhelmed with asylum seekers.

Mathilda Mallinson: I used to work in the jungle, which is the refugee camp in Calais. And one of the things everyone would always ask me is “Why is everyone coming to the UK?” The truth is, they’re not. I mean, try this, okay, try to put those countries in order of who is getting the most annual asylum seekers relative to their population.

Helena Wadia: So I’m going to put the UK a little bit lower down because of what I’ve just heard. So I’m going to go for Germany, France, the UK, Spain and Greece.

Mathilda Mallinson: Okay, I’m trying to see if you got any of those right. Greece goes straight to the top. Then you have Spain, Germany, France, and way down, you have the UK.

Helena Wadia: How come that is not reflected in in what we read and what we see?

Mathilda Mallinson: People talk about the UK as if it’s El Dorado, but it’s more like a last resort. I get the question “Why come here?” But maybe what we should be asking isn’t “Why does everyone want to come here?” What we should be asking, and what papers aren’t really asking, is “What is preventing them from seeking asylum somewhere easier?”

Helena Wadia: Well, let’s find out.

Mathilda Mallinson: I’m off to Calais to ask asylum seekers what is pushing them to make that crossing.

Helena Wadia: And I’ll see you back in the studio with a special guest, to discuss everything around this media storm.

[Montage of news channels talking about migration]

Helena Wadia: Welcome to media storm, a news podcast that starts with the people who are normally asked last.

Mathilda Mallinson: I’m Matilda Mallinson

Helena Wadia: and I’m Helena Wadia

Mathilda Mallinson: This week’s investigation: El Dorado – Why do refugees ‘love’ the UK?

Mathilda Mallinson: Headlines about Channel migrants often start on our horizon. But the real news story lies beyond. On the outskirts of France’s coastal towns like Calais and Dunkirk, lie ramshackle refugee camps. If you want to understand why people are coming, there’s one place to start: “The Jungle”. I’m just heading very off-road to meet a Kurdish man who’s going to take us to his campsite. If I’m struggling to drive on this road, imagine what it’s like sleeping on it. It’s muddy.

Jawmer Ali Mahmoud: [Speaks Kurdish]

Mathilda Mallinson: He introduces himself by his full name, Jawmer Ali Mahmoud, and tells me everything I see will soon be destroyed by police. People are cold, he says, they cannot have less than they have. But he insists he’s happy because he’s out of Kurdistan, his home nation which falls within Iraqi territory and where he fears he’ll be killed for political dissent.

Jawmer: No, you can see pictures of my back. In Kurdistan.

Mathilda Mallinson: He’s just showing me photos of his back with clear torture injuries. (To Jawmer) This is in Kurdistan when you were jailed?

Jawmer: Yes

Mathilda Mallinson: Would you claim asylum in France?

Jawmer: Never.

Mathilda Mallinson: Why not?

Jawmer: I don’t like system. I think police Kurdistan, police France no different. If 10 years I am in Jungle I don’t I don’t want asylum. If 10 years I live in Jungle. But one tent in Jungle is better villa in Kurdistan. Of course, because in Kurdistan I near die.

Mathilda Mallinson: I don’t like to leave you sad.

Jawmer Ali Mahmoud: It’s ok. Sometime my mother used to say: Sawkar (nickname), come back, my son. I need your love. I can’t. If change government, I go back to Kurdistan. If no change, I can’t, I die.

Mathilda Mallinson: Jawmer is not alone in his fear of French police. Over in Calais I meet a group of Sudanese refugees, both men and boys making a fire for the night.

Arabic translator: Yesterday, there was a group of Sudanese refugees who went to this lorry service station near the Jungle. They call it the ‘station of the devil’. A security guard let his dog loose and he chased them, bit someone and drew blood, while another man fell and broke his leg running away. I ask the UK to take all the Sudanese and refugees from the jungle. Being here is an unbearable struggle. We need rest, please, with whatever way possible. Save us from the situation, from these unleashed dogs, these unsanitary conditions, the police brutality, please, please, please save us from this injustice.

Mathilda Mallinson: It seems the UK’s hostile border policy may not simply be keeping people out, but in some cases kettling them in. You see, it’s the UK that pays for most of this, spending nearly a quarter of a billion since 2014. I sit down with Chloe Smidt-Nielsen from Human Rights Observers to understand this policy.

Chloe Smidt-Nielson: The French official policy is one of daily violence to exhaust.

Mathilda Mallinson: What kind of violence are we talking about? What has your organisation documented?

Chloe Smidt-Nielson: Beatings inside police custody, teargas leading to hospitalisation, dislocated shoulders, they’re clothes stolen, their phones smashed, their shoes stolen often as well. Just a horrific level of police brutality and cruelty.

Mathilda Mallinson: These are, you say, being perpetrated by state officials?

Chloe Smidt-Nielson: Yeah, it’s not just individual racist police officers. It’s because there is a general system of impunity at the border. As long as the goal at the border is to stop people from going where they need to go, then it will be done through violence.

Mathilda Mallinson: So what do you think the solution should be if not this militarised response?

Chloe Smidt-Nielson: The solution that I can think of, at least, is to open the border in the same way that I mean, we don’t see any camps between France and Germany. And why is that? Because there’s no border controls. So it’s that simple.

Mathilda Mallinson: But by open the border on the Channel, what does that mean?

Chloe Smidt-Nielson: It means allowing people to take the ferry like everyone else.

Mathilda Mallinson: So for a lot of listeners, this would seem like very radical policy, but maybe when you’ve seen the extreme violence that you have as a result of securitised borders, you will be led to more extreme conclusions.

Chloe Smidt-Nielson: Exactly.

Mathilda Mallinson: Backlogs at the border affect locals too. While we’re here, let’s see how they feel.

French translator 1: I want to help these people because all of us could be in the same situation, but they still have to respect the country in which they are staying. Sometimes they just break the window of abandoned buildings and go inside it.

[French voices in background]

French translator 2: My name is Pascal. My heart is with these people who are in pain and are starving. I’m here to support them.

French translator 3: My name is Stephanie du Monde. It’s a bit annoying when the migrants block the port on the motorway, which has happened in the past. Some are kind, some are not. But that’s like the French. As a country, I do think we’re becoming more and more racist.

Mathilda Mallinson: Of course, some people do apply in France, and then they get rejected. Either they’re fake refugees, as some politicians and media claim, or safe countries simply aren’t offering enough spaces for everybody. The consequence? Overspill.

Ali Reza: My name is Ali Reza, I’m 28 years old. I’m Iranian. I’ve been to Germany, and I applied for asylum in Germany. It’s so amazing, I don’t know why: in nine months, they send me a letter, you must go back to Iran. We understand that there isn’t any reason for you to stay in Germany. While I know my life is in danger in Iran! After that I applied for asylum in France. They said no, you must go back to Germany. Everybody, English citizens, I see on some Twitter pages: “Your economical migrants,” or something like this. But we don’t have any other way. I’m not idiot to cross the Channel While I know it’s dangerous. I know it’s dangerous! But when I don’t have any other way, how can I do? You know, being homeless… being homeless, while you had a place in your country— you had a normal life. We had respect, we had everything. You just thinking about: “Go, go, go, go. Greece: go. Germany: go. France: go. Here is not your place.

Mathilda Mallinson: Can I ask, when did you learn to speak English?

Ali Reza: My mother told me you must learn second language. For the moment, English is the most important language in the world.

Mathilda Mallinson: Do you speak any French?

Ali Reza: Yes, a bit.

Mathilda Mallinson: And do you speak any German?

Ali Reza: Yes, I do.

Mathilda Mallinson: Do you speak any Greek?

Ali Reza: Yes.

Mathilda Mallinson: That’s very impressive.

Ali Reza: Actually, I don’t know if you know about Prophet Solomon? There is a story in Koran, about Prophet Solomon. He could speak all of the languages and also even with the bears with the animals. I would like to learn all of the languages. It’s so fun!

[He greets Mathilda in four different languages. She laughs]

Mathilda Mallinson: France isn’t the only safe country in Europe that people are coming from. Ezra and Bahir, who are using pseudonyms to protect their children, are seeking refuge from Iraq. They’re at square zero of the UK asylum process. For them. It’s a huge step back.

[Amina speaks Arabic in background]

They were in Austria for five years, and they had hope, Ezra tells me, going to school, learning German, making friends. They stayed through xenophobic abuse, through years of limbo. They stayed even when something really tragic happened.

Bahir: This accident happened, this mistake happened, the 26th of December 2017.

Mathilda Mallinson: Ezra had to go to hospital for chronic illness. They didn’t let Bahir in the ambulance with her and at this time, Ezra spoke no German. And then they performed an emergency operation. A warning that this interview is distressing.

Bahir: First four months, she was not move anything from her body just the head. After six months, she’s just started to move toe.

Mathilda Mallinson: Ezra was left paralyzed.

Bahir: Two or three times she tried to kill herself.

[Amina speaks Arabic in background]

Arabic translator: I needed the bathroom. They told me to go myself but I couldn’t move and they didn’t believe that I couldn’t. They said I was lying. My hijab fell off and I asked for it to be put back but no one responded. No one did it. They just didn’t care. They took off all my clothes to run tests. Then they left the room and I asked them to cover me or to put my clothes back on and they didn’t. They just left me like that until the morning.

Mathilda Mallinson: Two and a half years later, Austria rejected their asylum claim.

Bahir: We lost her health. We lost our rights. Some people they say, political decision. And other people they say they have just enough number from asylum people, but they not care about human rights. This is the point.

Mathilda Mallinson: That’s how they ended up in a dinghy on the Channel.

Bahir: You move country to country. From Austria to Germany, from Germany to France, from France on the water to UK. This is hard. We thought about health of my wife and future for my children. We don’t have rights in our country. We need building our life. We’re not waiting to take something. No, no, never. I need to build the future of my children. I need to make my wife healthy. If it’s possible, I can work, and that’s it. We’re not asking about something impossible, just human rights.

Mathilda Mallinson: There’s one more story I want to tell you. And I’m sorry for the overload but understanding what is really meant by a broken asylum system is a lot more complicated than many media imply. This is the story of two Afghan sisters separated by borders. Sonia, a British citizen brought to the UK by her husband long ago. And Attiye, a 16-year-old girl, she is fleeing forced marriage to a 70-year-old man.

Sonia: She said to me, they sold me. And I will kill myself on the wedding day.

Mathilda Mallinson: We’re using their first names only to avoid attracting their family’s attention. Sonia has tried everything to bring it over. But the Afghan resettlement scheme hasn’t responded to her appeal and the UK’s child resettlement schemes ceased last year. I sit down with Sonia to call her sister who’s in hiding.

[Phone rings, unanswered, for some time]

Sonia: If anything happened to her, I won’t be alive anymore. The guilt that I haven’t done enough for her.

Mathilda Mallinson: Finally, we get through.

[Attiye speaks down the phone in Dari]

Sonia: She’s saying the reason that I don’t want to go out of my room, I’m scared that the people that I’ve been sold to them, they find me.

[Attiye speaks down the phone in Dari]

Sonia: She saying I don’t know what else to do. My only hope is to be with you.

Mathilda Mallinson: Attiye mutes herself, so we don’t hear her crying.

Sonia: She’s just turning 16, but deep down inside she’s very depressed. And also in Islam. The girl should not dyed a virgin. So first, they take your virginity and then they kill you. [Crying] Hust help me help my child. I’m not gonna call her my sister. She has only me.

Mathilda Mallinson: I think there are three things to understand. Firstly, few are making beelines for the UK, for many, it’s a last resort. Secondly, to apply for asylum, you almost always have to get here first: illegally. And thirdly, compared to other wealthy European countries, not that many people are coming. So why do we think they are? And is the media responsible for this myth? One man who thinks so is Professor Joseph Teye, calling us now from the University of Ghana.

Professor Joseph Teye: So this is a belief that is held by many people in the Global North. The media has then put out that narrative as if there is a mass exodus to Europe. And people even believe that if we are allowed, everybody will move to Europe. Well this is not true. It is coming from the fact that they are seeing only just a small side of the issue – only those arriving. They don’t see the other side, where other people are moving to. These are some of the things that need to be decolonized, need to be reformulated.

Mathilda Mallinson: That brings us onto part two of our podcast. Thanks for sticking around.

Helena Wadia: Welcome back to the studio, where we’ll discuss all the cheerful headlines on marginalised, ostracised, and systematically silenced communities.

Mathilda Mallinson: Our guest this week is a writer whose words have appeared in the Sunday Times, GQ, Evening Standard and more.

Helena Wadia: He’s co-founder of Refugee Media Centre

Mathilda Mallinson: Olivia Coleman’s sexy Syrian friend in ‘Fleabag’

Helena Wadia: And a real life refugee.

Both: It’s Steve Ali

Steve Ali: I was not expecting that

Mathilda Mallinson: Which part?

Steve Ali: Olivia Colman’s – what – sexy…?

Helena Wadia: Well, we only tell the truth on this podcast. So Steve, what did you think of that investigation that we’ve just heard?

Steve Ali: The UK is really really obsessed with the idea of being invaded. There is something really strange about it. Politicians talk about “Everyone wants a piece of us, everyone wants to come here”. There is this arrogance and self obsession that I have noticed in being in this country.

Mathilda Mallinson: Well, that is definitely not the perspective you get in your average mainstream media report, which is why we need to hear from more diverse voices and specifically from people with lived experience of the issues being discussed. Which brings us on to what Media Storm is all about.

Helena Wadia: Media Storm is a podcast that seeks to provide the balance to the mainstream media. So, some mainstream medias often forget to speak to people with lived experience of the issues. And these people tend to be from minority groups. So we want to provide a space for those people often found caught in the eye of the media storm. In this case, we’re talking about the coverage of refugees and asylum seekers. So I think what we tend to hear in the mainstream media is stories of “record numbers of migrants crossing the Channel”. But do you think, Steve, that there is a tendency to speak about those seeking asylum without really thinking about who those people are?

Steve Ali: I think it’s very agenda driven. One of the most pervasive and most effective ways and ignorant ways of uniting people is creating a common enemy. I think that’s what our Governments have been doing in Europe, the rise of the far right – it’s all about creating this fear, those dangerous creatures that are invading us.

Helena Wadia: And I think what’s important to note is the language – the categories of refugees, asylum seekers, immigrants, migrants are frequently used interchangeably by journalists. And they don’t all mean the same thing. And often, regardless of the political stance of, of a media outlet, or a newspaper, they tend to use the same terminology as each other, because certain topics start trending, and they want to get those hits, those likes and those views. So they start all using the same language in order to compete with each other.

Mathilda Mallinson: Yeah, I think let’s have a little vocabulary 101, because I think it’s really important for readers to know the meaning of the words being used when they’re reading about immigration in the news. So the term refugee literally means anyone who’s fleeing conflict, persecution, natural disaster, but legally, it only refers to people who have been granted protection status by the country they’ve applied for asylum in. So if someone is referred to as a migrant, it doesn’t mean that they’re not a refugee. A term that editors are very relaxed about using is the term illegal immigrant. Legally speaking, there is absolutely zero statutory criminal offence against entering a country without papers if you’re applying for asylum. And statistically, most of the people coming across the channel in dinghies do apply for asylum. So when they’re referred to as “illegal immigrants”, it’s actually incorrect for most of them. Steve, I don’t know, I wonder if you have any thoughts about whether there is damage being done because of that?

Steve Ali: The word illegal has very negative connotations. It implies crime, implies wrongdoing, and completely takes out any sense of empathy. There certainly is an agenda behind that.

Helena Wadia: Do you think it is an agenda, and/or a lack of knowledge from some journalists?

Steve Ali: I think, if we were going to give the benefit of the doubt, I think you can only give it for a certain period of time. But this has been going on for years now.

Mathilda Mallinson: I raised this with the Editor at a paper I previously worked on. And he didn’t ignore every point I raised, but to this point, he explicitly said “Yeah, we’re gonna ignore that point. Because the term illegal immigrant is just normalised in our vocabulary. And, you know, we have to speak to people in a language that they understand because we are completely exempt from any responsibility of shaping the language that people hear” – in so many words.

Steve Ali: Or, “we want to speak to people in a language that we want them to understand”. Because under the UN Convention, crossing borders when you’re a refugee is not a crime. There is nothing illegal about it.

Helena Wadia: And let’s look at some of the other language that surrounds this topic. Waves, floods, swarms. When we hear those words, what do we think? I immediately think of a country being overwhelmed.

Mathilda Mallinson: I think about insects, parasites.

Steve Ali: Yeah, you know, in Syria in August I think, if you go to the coastline, you find hundreds of thousands of jellyfish just washed up on the beach. They present it in that way, as swarms, or indicating huge numbers of invaders. Whereas when you look at statistics, the number of refugees that come to the UK is so small in comparison to the number of refugees in Europe in general.

Helena Wadia: Well, on that note, I have some statistics here that the number of people coming to the UK to claim asylum stands at less than half of what it was in the early 2000s. And the peak number of asylum applications was 84,000 in 2002.

Steve Ali: Well, in Turkey alone, there are over 3 million Syrian refugees, and in Lebanon, there are about 2 million and in Jordan there’s about another million or something.

Helena Wadia: I suppose the real question then is, is the media reporting on or creating the crisis?

Mathilda Mallinson: Plot twist.

Helena Wadia: Because surely the real question that should be asked is, “What makes somebody risk their life to get across the channel in a in a rubber dinghy?”

Mathilda Mallinson: I think to round off this part of the discussion, Steve, as someone who has been falsely described as an illegal immigrant, what would you like people reading the news to understand about this type of migration?

Steve Ali: I’d like people to understand why there are no safer ways. This government talks a lot about resettlement schemes and how they have ‘resettled more refugees than any other European country’, which is statistically true, but it’s an isolated stat. Per capita, it falls way down the list of wealthy European countries when it comes to resettlement. Applying for asylum and resettlement schemes is a very bureaucratic process. There is a huge backlog. So this government just keeps talking about “safe and legal routes safe and legal routes”, buzzwords, this government is so big on those buzzwords, that doesn’t really exist.

Mathilda Mallinson: Right. So it’s more about more about the packaging than about the content.

Steve Ali: It is definitely more about the packaging.

Mathilda Mallinson: And then who’s responsible for the packaging? The press!

Mathilda Mallinson: Right, let’s take a look at the headlines. Now, it’s been a big week. There’s a lot to talk about, we’re gonna have to plow through.

Helena Wadia: Well, while we’re talking about the coverage of asylum seekers, and like you said, the misinformation that often does the rounds in the mainstream media, I want to talk about how on BBC Politics Live a week ago, the Head of Media at the Institute of Economic Affairs – which is a think tank that has been known to have some quite right-wing leanings – she said on live TV: “If you cross in a dinghy boat, then you are an illegal immigrant. That is a fact.” Now, she was quickly corrected by a Labour MP who was appearing alongside her on the show, but she, you know, continued to maintain her apparent fact. Once again, this is just an example of somebody invited to speak without any lived experience, or apparently any idea of basic immigration law.

Steve Ali: She refuses to accept that crossing the Channel to claim asylum is not a crime in any way under any international law. That is not a crime, that’s completely legal. And the fact she refuses to accept that is just so indicative of how rigid and how filled they are with their own biases and their own agenda and propaganda.

Mathilda Mallinson: And crucially, around that table, there was not anyone with lived experience to provide any form of response to the vast assumption she’s making about the psychology driving people onto those dinghies.

Helena Wadia: Honestly, it’s like getting Gordon Ramsay on to talk about meditation techniques. Or Piers Morgan to talk about transgender people. Oh, wait…

[They laugh]

Helena Wadia: That’s a later episode guys, that’s Episode 4.

Steve Ali: Or it’s like a lot of people who go and read a few Reddit threads and become experts on you know, the pandemic and virology and all of that. It’s the same kind of people.

Mathilda Mallinson: This population of people coming across in dinghies has been lumped in with another category this week, following the bombing attack in Liverpool by Emad al-Swealmeen and the coverage there. Did anybody see the Daily Mail comment by Dan Wootton, directly linking dinghy arrivals to this attack?

Helena Wadia: Yeah, so I’m going to read out the headline. “The atrocity Liverpool so nearly suffered, the thousands of undocumented migrants hitting our beaches every month and the Establishment conspiracy of silence that puts us all at risk”.

Steve Ali: So when I read this title, it just seems so dramatic to me! And obviously straight up linking it to the migrant crossing and Channel crossing. And I instantly thought about this thing we had earlier this year about “Send in the Navy battleships to intercept those migrant boats!” What is happening, are we really forgetting who are these people that are on these boats? Refugees are rational people with agency but acting out of necessity. The authorities themselves said that they don’t know whether there is a link between the suicide bombing and the hospital or the church around the corner. And then you get the self-appointed DCI Dan Wootton, with his full blown crime thriller type analysis on what the suicide bomber was trying to do.

Mathilda Mallinson: Yeah, there was a lot of misinformation circulating at the start of this episode, one of which was that he was a Syrian refugee, and this was reported initially that he was a refugee in a few places. Maybe it’s also the public misunderstanding what’s meant when he’s described as an asylum seeker, but it was picked up by right-wing commentators that this man is a Syrian refugee he represents the leniency of a broken asylum system that he was granted status. This was the narrative that we were all seeing. In actual fact, what we later learned is, not only was he not a refugee, his asylum claim was rejected in 2014, long before he ever converted to Christianity.

Helena Wadia: Well given the number of headlines about the so-called Liverpool bomber’s conversion to Christianity, and the number of times it’s been mentioned in various articles, I was actually genuinely shocked to hear that his conversion to Christianity didn’t result in a successful asylum application.

Mathilda Mallinson: I’m not surprised you are shocked. It was really the impression we were getting. And that’s not to say that there’s nothing to discuss here. Because, you know, maybe there’s questions about the appeals process. For example, there’s a very long Telegraph article discussing this issue, you know, ‘what do we have to learn about our appeal system that this man was still in the country’, but there’s a crucial context missing. And I think it’s tied into the fact that again, despite countless interviews in this piece, there is not a single one with anyone with lived experience, no one who has been through the asylum system. And the context we’re missing is just how difficult that asylum system is. By the Home Office’s own data, 48%, so half of the asylum seekers they reject, have their rejections overturned on appeal, so they are wrongly rejected. Half of the people are rejected or wrongly rejected. And the language in this article – I’m going to read out the headline to you – “Church under fire in wake of Liverpool suicide bombing for helping asylum seekers to ‘game’ system”. Now, there’s no right of reply in this article. And Steve, I want to ask you how you feel when you see language like “game the system” in the context of asylum?

Steve Ali: I see that the person who wrote this article has probably not spoken to anyone who had been through the asylum system, and doesn’t know how the asylum system works.

Mathilda Mallinson: How is that process of applying for asylum? Will you describe to us what that process is like for people?

Steve Ali: The process of asylum in this country consists mainly of two interviews. And in those interviews you are being asked questions about the reasons you are here in this country, the reason you want to claim asylum in this country. The interviews are very, in a way, traumatising to a lot of asylum seekers, because those people have just arrived from the worst situations, having lived unspeakable things. And then the first thing they have to do when they arrive here is literally recount all of the things that have happened to them in order to convince the Home Office to give them asylum. So imagine how gruelling and in a way ruthless that process is. It’s not a joke. It’s a very strict system. You get asked so many questions, interviews can go on for hours and hours, people get asked to come back for more interviews.

Mathilda Mallinson: How much of your life does this take up in terms of time?

Steve Ali: For some people it takes anytime from a few months to many years. I know people who are still in that limbo, just waiting for their decision, because the Home Office does take a lot of time to decide on these people’s applications. I mean, refugees who have survived so many bad things, all they want is just to gain a little bit of dignity back. That’s all they all they want, is just be a normal person again. They want to study or work or whatever. No one is looking for an idyllic life anymore. No one is looking for that.

Helena Wadia: Finally, Matilda, we heard in your investigation that the Afghan Resettlement Scheme that was planned to resettle 20,000 Afghans in the UK, that was announced in August, and hasn’t actually opened yet?

Mathilda Mallinson: Yes this is kind of the opposite situation of what we were just talking about. Whereas today, there is a dearth of headlines. We haven’t seen much coverage at all on the fact that the Afghan Resettlement Scheme doesn’t exist. And when you compare that to the hype, at the time… When the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan was happening, we saw an unprecedented level of media interest, sustained media interest in a foreign affairs issue. I think the media helps to curate this appetite we have for the ‘right kind of refugee’, helps to design the ‘right kind of refugee’. That interview, which everyone now has heard with the two Afghan sisters, that was a piece that I had commissioned by one of the main national papers. And I did that interview, it was incredibly traumatising for both sisters to do that. The only reason they did it is because they know only by having media coverage, do you have a case. And after doing that interview, this paper drops the commission because their story ‘wasn’t directly connected enough to the Taliban’ and what people wanted to read about were those fleeing the Taliban.

Steve Ali: A lot of the coverage that was happening around the Taliban were just traumatising stuff, people coming on talking about their traumas and plight, but not much of an actual stand with with these people’s situation. It was literally just using those people’s trauma for for the clickbait and for the articles to be read more, and for the headlines. And it’s just… it needs to be fixed.

Helena Wadia: Well, on that note, I think we should end with Steve – I want to hear from you. If you could let the mainstream media know one thing, what would it be?

Steve Ali: Stop the gatekeeping. Stop censoring people by not giving people the chance or the platform, or talking on behalf of people, just allow people with lived experience to express themselves. It’s really simple. Just just present both sides of the story.

Helena Wadia: Steve Ali, thank you so much for joining us. Steve, what social media are you on and where can people follow you?

Steve Ali: I’m on Instagram at the moment and my account is @steve_ali, and thank you very much for having me.

Helena Wadia: Thank you so much for listening to the first episode of Media Storm. We’ll be back next week with Episode 2: Pandemic of hate – We need to talk about anti-Asian abuse.

Mathilda Mallinson: Follow Media Storm wherever you get your podcasts so that you can get access to new episodes as soon as they drop. If you like what you hear, share this episode with someone and leave us a five star rating – please! – or write a review on Apple podcasts. It really helps more people discover the podcast and our aim is to have as many people as possible hear these voices.

Helena Wadia: You can also follow us on Twitter, Instagram and TikTok @helenawadia, @mathildamallinson, @mediastormpod.

Mathilda Mallinson: Get in touch and let us know what you’d like us to cover or who you’d like us to speak to.